Greetings, everybody! Jack Caldwell here.
One of the first novels I wrote was the ground-breaking THE THREE COLONELS, a sequel to both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. It was also the first book in my Jane Austen’s Fighting Men Series. I’ve have released the second book in that series, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, earlier this year (available now in print and Kindle). But I have been promising a sequel to THE THREE COLONELS for some time.
To prove I’m working on it, below is Chapter One of that long-awaited novel, ROSINGS PARK.
To set the scene, this takes place about one year after the end of THE THREE COLONELS. Colonel Fitzwilliam survived Waterloo, was knighted, and has married Anne de Bourgh. What you should know is the world is in the grip of a “nuclear winter” caused by the mammoth eruption of the Tambora volcano in the South Pacific. This has aggravated the usual economic depression that occurs after a war. Things are already unsettled in Regency Britain, and it will get worse…
September, 1816 – Derbyshire
THE HONORABLE SIR RICHARD Fitzwilliam, C.B., former colonel of dragoons, stood on the front steps of Pemberley on a cloudy, chilly afternoon watching a carriage as it began its journey back to Nottinghamshire. The grounds, festooned with flowers and flags swaying in the light breeze, pronounced to the world that a grand celebration occurred that day. A celebration that would change Pemberley and its master forever.
Richard was dressed not in a military uniform, but in a fine blue jacket and bluff trousers with an overcoat because of the brisk weather. The only indication of his former occupation was the scarlet sash of the Bath peeking out beneath his jacket. Richard was no more to go a-soldiering; he was now a gentleman farmer, tasked with the management his wife’s plantation.
He was ill-prepared for his new duties. Training half his life in marching and drilling, shooting and killing did not a farmer make. He had much to learn and needed someone to teach him. Fortunately, his mentor was almost a brother to him.
He glanced at his companion and mentor standing beside him on those broad steps. “Are you bearing up at all, Cuz?”
Fitzwilliam Darcy, the owner of Pemberley Manor, allowed a small sigh to escape his lips. “I am tolerably well, Fitz. And you?”
“I? I have no complaints. In fact, I am having a marvelous time. It was not my sister that married today.”
“No, but Georgiana was your ward. I know you must feel it.”
“All I feel is pride at what a lovely lady Georgiana has become. Or should I now say the Viscountess Llwellyn?”
“As you choose.”
Richard laughed. “Gad, you are dull today! Have no fears, Darce; Lord Llwellyn is a fine young man. He will treat her like a princess. You should know—you picked him for her!”
A small smile graced Darcy’s lips. “I cannot take credit for that, for Elizabeth made the match. I was allowed a veto. But you are correct— the viscount is devoted to Georgiana. I am happy they will be living in Derbyshire. Elizabeth would be quite devastated if their estate was more than a day away.”
Richard did not remind his cousin that Elizabeth would not be the only resident of Pemberley to be distraught at a more distant removal by the former Georgiana Darcy. Instead he glanced one last time at the retreating carriage. “Speaking of living nearby, do you think Bingley will reach Mayfield tonight?”
“He should. The roads are in good condition, but there are fine inns along the way, in any case.” Darcy shook and slapped his arms. “At least this cold weather is dry! Let us return inside.”
Richard grinned. “You know she is still holding court. Would you not prefer the billiards room?”
Darcy did not share his cousin’s humor. “I will not leave Elizabeth alone with her longer than necessary.” A footman collected the gentlemen’s overcoats.
“I think Lizzy is in no danger. And she did promise to be on her best behavior.”
“All the same…” Darcy assumed his usual countenance for battle: he stood taller, raised his chin, and assumed a neutral expression. A marble sculpture projected more warmth. The only indication of his anxiety was his slightly longer strides as he walked to the sitting room, Richard at his side. The door was open, and they could hear a woman’s voice half-way down the hall.
“In my day, the union of two august families would occur in Town,” boomed a quarrelsome voice. Darcy picked up his steps. “And a service by a country parson! It is unsupportable!”
“Of course, Lady Catherine,” responded a lady in a far gentler tone. “But brides must have their way, and Georgiana is so attached to Pemberley. Most of her family and friends are nearby, and the viscount’s too. Nothing else would do. And you should know that Georgiana and my sister Mrs. Southerland are quite close, and she would not have anyone but Mr. Southerland to bless her union with the viscount, not even her uncle the bishop.”
A third lady spoke up. “The wedding was lovely, Mother. There can be no complaint.”
By now the gentlemen arrived at the doorway. Even though she had been there for three days, it was still a shock to see Lady Catherine de Bourgh ensconced in a chair in the late Lady Anne Darcy’s favorite sitting room at Pemberley.
“I shall speak as I choose, Anne,” Lady Catherine said harshly.
Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, lovely, pale, and frowning, sat on a couch next to her cousin and hostess, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy. Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne’s long-time companion, was in a chair nearby.
Richard’s heart swelled at his wife’s fine looks, but he was distressed at the cause. The color in Anne’s cheeks was brought out by more than her pink dress. Anne was clearly exasperated with Lady Catherine. Richard was afraid she would respond to her mother with a sharp retort.
“Lady Catherine, I have not had the opportunity to ask your opinion of this room,” Elizabeth injected smoothly. “I believe it was your sister’s favorite.”
Richard saw Lady Catherine narrow her eyes and wondered if she suspected that Lizzy was patronizing her with the change of subject.
“Indeed it was, Mrs. Darcy. We spent many hours in this delightful room, talking of many things.” The grand dame’s eyes turned to her nephews. “Many things. Darcy! I take it your last guests have departed?”
Richard shifted uneasily, and saw Darcy’s jaw clinch for an instant. He suspected that Darcy had the same impression as he of Lady Catherine’s comment of “many things”—she again was referring to her assertion that she and Lady Anne Darcy had planned a marriage between their children. The old woman was stubborn. Darcy had been married to Elizabeth for four years, and Richard married Anne de Bourgh nine months ago. What was done was done, and there was nothing she could do about it. Indeed, it seemed by her attendance at Pemberley that Lady Catherine had finally accepted the situation.
And she did, Richard realized. Lady Catherine knew that Anne was happy with her choice and that Darcy did not regret his, but the obstinate old woman was insisting again that she was right, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Darcy nodded. “Yes, they have.” He turned to his wife, and the familiar soft look Darcy reserved for Elizabeth and their children graced his face. “Jane and Charles, the Hursts, and the Bufords should be safely back at Mayfield by nightfall.”
“Six people in a carriage—that will be an uncomfortable journey!” Richard could not stop himself from adding. “Particularly as Hurst is larger than ever.”
As he feared, he earned a sharp look from Anne. “Richard…” she said in that dangerous voice that warned of consequences for his impertinence. Lady Fitzwilliam was small and slim with a quiet demeanor, but for all that, she was a de Bourgh and was given to expressing her displeasure as only a de Bourgh could when provoked. At least she reserved her occasional dressings-down of him for the privacy of their rooms; unlike Lady Catherine, whose frankness of character overrode simple courtesy like an avalanche.
Richard shrugged. He must be himself, and if the price of that was the occasional short tongue-lashing from his sweet Annie…well, he knew best how to placate her.
“I am glad to hear it,” said Elizabeth to Darcy. “But, Lady Catherine, as you can see, the years have not been kind to the drapes in this room, and I fear that the fabric will be impossible to duplicate. I was wondering, since their replacements will be new, if there were any improvements to the room that might serve, all while respecting the wonderful taste of my husband’s dear mother. Have you any suggestions?”
Richard almost laughed. Elizabeth could not have said anything that would appeal more to Lady Catherine’s enormous vanity. Lord, Cousin Lizzy could manipulate a bloody bone from a staving wolf! Be careful, Darce—if she chooses, she will have you dancing from puppet strings, if she has not done so already!
A small smile stole across Lady Catherine’s usually dour face. “I must give it some thought, Mrs. Darcy. You are correct in saying this room is quite lovely as it is, but any space can use some restrained improvement. Restrained, I say! Too many young people these days change things just for change itself, with no thought to economy or tradition. It would be better to seek proper guidance.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Thus my question, Lady Catherine. My time in Town has shown me numerous examples of what you speak. The tradesmen are happy for the work, to be sure, but ostentatious display is a poor exchange for proper understated English elegance.” Butter would not melt in Elizabeth’s mouth.
Lady Catherine raised her chin. “Very true.”
The overbearing widow turned to Richard. “What was that?”
Richard covered his mouth. “Forgive me, aunt. A cough. The weather is so beastly.” He glanced at Anne, who was shooting daggers at him. Oh, I will pay for that.
“You should rest, Richard,” said his aunt. “You will be of no use if you fall ill.”
“That is excellent advice, Lady Catherine,” said the fifth lady in the room, one that Lady Catherine was laboring mightily to ignore. Not only was Mrs. Mary Tucker the sister of Mrs. Darcy and therefore of little importance, she was married to the lawyer that assisted the Earl of Matlock in overthrowing Lady Catherine and installing Anne as mistress of Rosings Park. What was even more distasteful to the grand lady was that that self-same solicitor was seated right next to his wife.
“Mary is right, Mama,” said Anne. “You should rest before dinner.”
Richard saw his aunt’s lips tighten. Lady Catherine took great issue with Anne’s friends. She had no objections to Georgiana—now Lady Llwellyn—and she could not really object to Elizabeth Darcy, if truth be told. She would like the intelligent and witty lady even better if she could forgive her marriage to Darcy.
But people like Mrs. Charlotte Collins and Mrs. Tucker were to Lady Catherine’s sense of entitlement intolerable. And she disliked Lady Caroline Buford. There was something of Lady Buford’s demeanor and independence that rubbed the old lady the wrong way. She was similar to Mrs. Darcy, only more pointed and cutting, and less witty about it.
Of course, both Richard and Anne adored all these ladies, which made matters worse.
But instead of resisting, the grand dame rose from her chair. “I think all the ladies should retire. It has been a long day, and it would not do to appear at dinner with tired eyes. Come Anne, Mrs. Darcy—you shall accompany me above stairs. Mrs. Darcy, please see that my tea is brought to my room.”
Elizabeth went to her aunt’s side, assuring her that her request would be fulfilled. As the three ladies passed the gentlemen, Richard saw Elizabeth wink at Darcy. Right behind was an unperturbed Mary Tucker, and Richard winked at her, which earned a smile.
Now that the gentlemen were left to themselves, Richard said to Darcy, “We have some time, Cuz, and I admit I am a bit chilled. Do you have any of the excellent Cognac I enjoyed during my last visit?”
“I was able to hide a bottle or two from your clutches,” returned Darcy dryly. “What say you, Tucker? Shall I open one in honor of the day?”
“I have never turned down a Cognac in my life, brother,” cried Mr. Thomas Tucker. “Lead on.”
Within minutes, the Master of Pemberley, the consort of Rosings, and the lawyer for both were sharing a brandy in Darcy’s grand study. “How is the harvest progressing at Rosings?” asked Darcy as he settled down in an armchair, a fire blazing in the hearth.
Richard gestured at the flames. “What harvest? This damned cold has the crops in a terrible way. We had to re-establish the rents this year because there were improvements to drainage that needed to be done, but we will be fortunate to collect anything from our tenants.”
Darcy was grim. “Conditions are bad everywhere, Fitz. I am thankful we have so much in sheep, but feed costs have risen while wool prices continue to fall.”
“Yes, but you have your people, and they are devoted to you. Pemberley is an island of peace in a sea of troubles. That is why the riot in Leicestershire never touched you.”
“The Luddites are fanatics and fools,” proclaimed Mr. Tucker, who had many political contacts.
“That is rather harsh, Tucker,” said Darcy.
“Perhaps, but they do their cause no favors by their actions. It will go hard for them. The government is shaken by the poor economy and the unrest from it and will want to make examples of the leaders of the riot. Are things unsettled in Kent too, Sir Richard?”
Richard sighed. “There is grumbling, to be sure, but nothing serious.” He paused. “Caruthers wants to leave me.”
Darcy sat up. “Your steward? He has been at Rosings for over sixteen years. Why?”
“He wants to retire, Darce, and his only daughter lives in Cornwall. His son-in-law is a steward at an estate there. They want Caruthers to live with them and play with his grandchildren.”
Mr. Tucker smiled. “A pleasant way to spend one’s autumn years. When will he leave?”
“He said he will stay through the harvest, but he wants to remove to Cornwall before Christmas.”
“So you need a new steward and quickly.” Darcy put his hand to his chin. “Shall I make some inquires for you?”
Richard hid a grimace. “I would not refuse you, Darce. A list of names is all I ask. I can take things in hand from there.” He should have known his otherwise admirable cousin would try to manage things. “Tucker, would you draw up the required papers?”
“Consider it done, Sir Richard. I will start working on it upon my return to Town.”
Richard downed his drink. “Excellent! Gentlemen, what say you to a game of billiards?”
Dinner passed unremarkably for Darcy, and the entertainment afterwards disappointed. True, his sister Mary played with great skill, and Elizabeth was enchanting, but neither approached the ability of one who was not there and would never live there again.
Darcy shook his head at his stupidity as he climbed the stairs to the family wing. Surely it was foolish and selfish to wish that Georgiana was still at Pemberley rather than on her honeymoon tour! Lord Algernon Cartwright, Viscount Llwellyn, was a kind and responsible young man, and the choice of Georgie’s tender heart. Still, it was melancholy to anticipate that except for the occasional family party the halls of Pemberley would be devoid of his sweet sister’s beautiful music.
Approaching the nursery, he could hear the dulcet tone of his wife speaking to their children.
“Go to sleep, my sweet boy. The angels shall watch over you.”
No. There will be new and different music in Pemberley now, in its own way delightful. Darcy looked in through the open door. Elizabeth had just kissed the forehead of their son, two-year old Bennet. Suddenly, another voice was heard from.
“Uncle Darcy! Kiss me goodnight!” Chloe Wickham, even at three as pretty and precocious as her absent mother, had her arms outstretched impatiently.
Darcy dutifully performed as requested. “Chloe, we have spoken of this. It is time for sleep, not speaking. There’s a good girl.”
Chloe simply giggled, and laughed anew after her aunt Elizabeth likewise took her leave. Mrs. Nivens, the children’s nanny, retired to her attached bedroom as the Darcys retreated to their apartments. In affectionate silence, they each moved to their separate dressing rooms to prepare for the night. Robe garbed and valet dismissed, Darcy was pouring the wine when Elizabeth joined him in the sitting room that connected their bedrooms.
“Fanny is fast asleep,” she reported. Their three-month old daughter’s crib was in the Mistress’s bedroom, for Elizabeth had chosen to nurse her rather than employ a wet nurse. She had done the same for Bennet. It was unusual for a lady of the Quality to nurse her children, but Elizabeth was determined upon the matter, and in this Darcy bowed to his wife’s choice. “How are you, dearest?” she asked Darcy as he handed her a glass.
“First Fitz, and now you. I assure you I am well. I own to be a bit preoccupied, is all.”
That throaty laugh he knew and loved so well was her answer. “Oh, Fitzwilliam, melancholy is to be expected. It is not every day one’s baby sister marries.” Elizabeth made herself comfortable on the small sofa, her robe opening as a result, displaying her abundant charms. Two children had added curves to her light and pleasing figure. Darcy had no complaints over the changes whatsoever.
“I will come around to accepting it,” he said as he sat next to her, “in about ten years or so.”
“Georgiana is so happy, and Lord Llwellyn is perfectly besotted. We have nothing to fear.”
“I am not concerned.” Darcy tried to hide his disquiet with a sip. He failed.
“Of course you are, my dear. It is only natural that you should be. She was your responsibility for ten years. Now she is Llwellyn’s. It is the way of the world.”
“Indeed. I will say I am not looking forward to this with Fanny. Can she not take the veil?”
“No, she will not. And neither will Chloe.” Elizabeth smiled at his questioning look. “She is our ward now, and I do not believe that Lydia will take her back. Besides, our niece only has eyes for you.”
“Fitzwilliam, for such an excellent man, you still cannot understand women. You are fast becoming Chloe’s father in her heart, if you are not already.”
“She has a father.”
“A step-father, you mean. Colonel Denny is a man she does not know who is now half-way around the world in India with my foolish sister. Her real father was absent for most of her life and has been dead for over a year. You are all Chloe has now.”
“I promised that I would care for her when we took her in, as Charles did for Phoebe and Tucker for the babe Rhoda.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Rhoda will be good for Mary after their misfortune in January.” She set down her glass. “You are a good man, Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is time you received your reward for your sufferings today.”
Darcy was about to declare that today was far from being painful when he noticed that look in his Elizabeth’s eyes. A small smile graced his features. “Oh yes, today was an agony. You will tend my hurt?”
“I shall do my best.” She wound her arms about his neck and whispered in his ear, “Take me to bed, Fitzwilliam.”
Who was he to deny his wife’s command? Darcy swept Elizabeth up in his arms and carried her into the Master’s bedchamber.
Tying a robe about his waist, Richard left the guest bedroom and crossed the small parlor to the door opposite. He halted, steeled himself for what was he about to receive, and knocked on the door.
“Come in, Richard,” said Lady Anne Fitzwilliam.
Richard closed his eyes. He knew well that tone of voice. He entered the room.
He saw Anne at the dressing table, her back to him, running a brush through her dark tresses. Her dressing gown hung loosely from her slim frame. Richard noted that the maid had already been dismissed. He gulped. It seems she wishes to begin directly. Oh, well.
“Richard, what on earth were you on about this afternoon?” Anne spoke in a low voice and did not bother to turn around. Instead, she stared at his reflection in the mirror. “Were you trying to enrage Mother?”
An instant apology would have been expedient, but Richard Fitzwilliam was not an expedient man. “Oh, come now, Annie,” using an endearment to appease her. “How could I help myself after Lady Catherine’s ridiculous pronouncement? Condemning ostentatious display in favor of understated elegance?” He moved further into the room and leaned next to the fireplace. “Rosings is the very definition of ostentatious display! You and I have discussed this, and I know well your plans to redecorate once this time of economy is past. At least I stopped myself from laughing in her very face.” He looked at the flames in the hearth. “Lord, it is warm in here!”
“That is because I am chilled.” Anne put her hairbrush down and turned to her husband. “You restrained yourself, and I appreciate that. But you know Mother can be difficult about things, and this is a very special time for Lizzy. What a triumph for her to have Mother come to Pemberley! Do you not know she has been striving for this since her wedding day?”
Richard was confused. “Why would she want Lady Catherine here after everything that has happened? My aunt’s behavior was abhorrent.”
“It is Lizzy’s nature. She could not bear strife within the family.”
“It was no one’s fault but Lady Catherine’s!”
“Of course it is. But Lizzy knows how dear family is to Darcy. She would not be easy until he and Mother reconciled.”
“She is a better person than I.”
“You really should behave yourself. It may not appear so, but Lizzy is exhausted. Not only was she distracted by preparing for Georgie’s wedding and recovering from Fanny’s birth three months ago, she had to deal with the fact Mother has not yet made peace with Uncle Matlock.”
Richard smirked. It had been a comedy that morning keeping Lady Catherine and Lord Matlock out of each other’s way. Even though they were across the room from each other most of the time, Lady Catherine could still be heard mumbling about her conniving thief of a brother, while the earl was harrumphing about his harridan of a sister.
Of course, there was no justice to Lady Catherine’s accusations—Lord Matlock’s “thievery” was simply enforcing Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s will and bestowing onto Anne her rightful inheritance.
As for the earl’s complaints—well, it was against his father’s character not to reply in kind, rather than take the high road and pretend that his only surviving sibling was not making disparaging remarks about him. The Fitzwilliams were a quarrelsome family and no mistake. Thank goodness Richard’s parents left for their estate soon after the happy bride and groom departed.
“I am sorry Lizzy is feeling poorly. Should I apologize?”
“No, she would be mortified if she knew what I told you.”
“Hah! She is more like Darcy every day.” Richard walked over and placed a hand on Anne’s shoulder. “I am sorry to upset you, sweetheart.”
Anne placed a hand on his and leaned her head fondly on them. “Thank you.”
Richard smiled roguishly as he gently pulled his wife up from her chair and into his arms. “I know a better way of warming you than that fire, my lovely.” For one so small and slim, Anne’s lips were exceedingly warm and inviting, and Richard could never quite get enough of them. Slowly, the passion in her kisses matched his, and Richard moved his hands from her waist to her bottom.
Anne broke contact. “Richard, no! Not here.”
“Annie, I beg you,” he whined, trailing kisses on her swan’s neck.
“I-I cannot.” She stepped away from his embrace. “Not here.”
“Sweetheart, I do not understand.” Except during their honeymoon tour, Anne showed a distinct aversion to making love anywhere but in her bedroom at Rosings. In fact, they had yet to make love in his bedroom, Richard recalled.
“I am…uncomfortable,” she said clearly agitated. “This is Lizzy’s house.”
“Are you concerned that they will know we—?” he raised his eyebrows. “Gad, we are married! What do you think they think we do?”
She turned from him, tears welling up. “Pray do not press me. I cannot explain it, but it is impossible.” She started to cry in earnest. “I know I have failed you as a wife. I am so silly and foolish, and I lost our baby, and—”
“Never say that!” Richard embraced her from behind, setting her head back against his broad chest. “Things like that cannot be helped. There will be other children.” He hoped more than believed his assurances, for he did not know if Anne’s mysterious former malady—caused, to his bewilderment, by cats, apparently—affected her ability to bear a child. “I love you so much, and I just want to make you happy.”
She turned into him, grasping him tightly. “I love you, too. I am happy, I am.”
For a few minutes the couple stood in the middle of the guest bedroom in a tight embrace. Then, noticing Anne’s weariness, Richard gently guided his wife to her bed. Once she was comfortable under the sheets, he kissed her once last time.
“Sleep well, sweetheart,” he said.
She touched his face, her fingers gliding over his features. “We will be home soon, and all will be as it should be. Goodnight, my dear.”
Richard gave her a tight smile, extinguished the candles, and made his way out of the room by the light from the fireplace.
ROSINGS PARK will be awhile before it comes out. I’ve written almost half of it.
Until next time, this has been the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.
It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…
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